Tarantino is no slave to historical accuracy but he still knows how to write and direct a brilliant film.
Django Unchained is not only a riveting bit of entertainment but also has vital and brutal bits of history lesson for a person like me who knew little of the horrors of the slavery beyond the obvious. From hot boxes to scarring runaways, the film goes deeper than beatings and lynchings to show far more of the madness of slavery than I had ever encountered before.
Does it wallow in the evil of slavery? It certainly does indulge in the N word and never shies away from the worst examples of slave torture and murder but all of this is to make the villains stand out as the nastiest pieces of work that Tarantino could conjure. Some might say it trivialises the truth of the past but it also gets every person in the cinema on side with the hero and makes for a riveting rescue and revenge mission.
It is probably Tarantino’s most conventional film to date. It has a hero on a quest, a princess in need of rescue, a father figure mentor and an evil villain who tries to stop the hero from getting his princess. It is also linear and lacking in any of Tarantino’s most excessive stylistic flourishes. Nevertheless the excellent choices of music, cartoonish violence and wonderful dialogue are present and correct making this still feel recognisably Tarantino-esque.
Django is a pleasure to watch as he attacks white supremacy throughout. He is a cool killer and a romantic hero and a joy to ride with from unchaining to violent retribution. Jamie Foxx emerges from under the long shadows of Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio to hold his own, despite both these two actors' best grand standing. His Django is noble, ruthless and seething with quiet rage. While Waltz and DiCaprio are also on top form, it is great to see Sam Jackson giving one of his finest performances in years also.
It felt to me like the anti Gone with the Wind. It is challenging, shocking and felt more historically accurate than any representations of slavery and the South that I’d ever seen before. There might be little to no evidence of Mandingo fighting and certain other excesses but the representation of slavery, oppression, torture and punishment was eye opening and powerful with much that there is recorded evidence of. There are many hateful characters here, not least Samuel L. Jackson’s hideous house slave Stephen and DiCaprio's Calvin Candie and their comeuppances are all a joy to watch.
It is wish fulfilment from start to finish. Like the killing of Hitler in Inglourious Basterds, the uprising of the slave against overseers and slave masters is cathartic, heroic and triumphant. It might trivialise it to an extent by packaging slavery as a Sergio Leone style Spaghetti western but it also opens your eyes to some of the awful and despicable behaviour of people in the past and opens the doors to debate, all while being thoroughly entertaining.
Seriously Spike Lee, please go give this movie a shot. I would love to hear your honest and considered opinion after seeing it. Not that Lee would care for this appraisal much but its Tarantino's best since Pulp Fiction.